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What We’ve Learned
Monday, February 05, 2007 2:53 PM

 

Today is the one-month anniversary of Write On, METRO. We’ve had a great start to our blog – the first transit blog in the nation, from what we can gather.

As of 12:30 p.m. today, we tallied:

  • 181 registered users
  • 390 comments
  • 15,410 views
  • 19 posts

We have certainly learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. We’ve had a chance to hear many good questions and hopefully, have provided some useful answers. You’ve been able to get a better idea of how METRO works and learn some of the “why” behind the “what.”

In the first blog I wrote, I said that our goal was to “spawn a community of interested readers who will engage in lively discussion.” But unfortunately, the conversation has been dominated by three critical voices whose response to each post is predictable: You’re incompetent, METRO is incompetent, and everything METRO does is a huge waste of money.

The attacks are often personal, both toward me and any commentator who defends METRO or writes something positive about METRO. Rather than encouraging friendly, healthy debate and conversation, these few are poisoning the blog environment and discouraging participation.

Jerry Springer meets the blogosphere. I personally prefer Nightline.

These individuals have posted 122 of the 390 comments, if my quick count is correct. That’s 31.28 percent of the comments.

Some of the mistakes they said we’ve made: wrong math, misspelled words (they’ve made some, too) what’s perceived by some of you as a long time to respond (contrary to one comment, these posts do take time to research), posts that have not been at a certain hour in the day (by their very nature, blogs are not posted on the clock), fluff and PR type material.

I have also been criticized for posting only one post per day.

So maybe it’s time to define what you can expect from me.

There may be misspellings or typos. Yes, I use SpellCheck, but our goal is an improved dialogue, not flawless spelling. Sometimes I may post multiple times a day, sometimes a post may require more research and background and take several days.

Not every single comment will get a response from me. If you have a specific complaint, compliment or suggestion, you may still leave a comment on the blog, but if you want METRO to take action, you need to write that complaint, compliment or suggestion on-line here on our main Web site. Or call: 713/648.0180.

Your complaint will be formally logged, a reference number will be attached and the complaint will be forwarded to the appropriate department for action. I don’t do that on this blog.

If you have a topic you would like me to address, or a comment that has nothing to do with that day’s post, you can e-mail me under “Contact Us” on the blog. Every e-mail will be read and forwarded to the right department, if needed. But not every e-mail will necessararily get a response.

Our User Guidelines states that comments may be reviewed before being posted. As of now, all comments will be reviewed before posting. If they are on topic, avoid name calling, use appropriate language and do not attack the comments of others, they will be posted. Of course, critical comments are allowed, as long as they follow the guidelines. Try to imagine: How would I behave if I were a guest in your living room?

This morning a comment came on asking about the Q card – but came in under “A Complaint That Didn’t Go Unheard” about the tweaked Route 68 to Cuney Homes. It was a perfectly legitimate question and comment, but I didn’t publish it because it was off topic. That reader needs to post that comment under “Q Card” or send an e-mail.

Speculation about personnel issues will not be posted. One comment about me was unpublished because, again, it was off topic and not true. To set the record straight: I do not make $300/post. I do not report to a vice president.

And my job duties, while dominated by this blog, include other internal projects for the president/CEO of METRO.

We hope you’ll keep reading our blog. Topics will continue to be news you can use – which seems to be what most of you want to read. But it may also include industry info, observations as a commuter and guests posts by other employees at METRO.

Thanks for joining the conversation.

Comments

Samantha said:

I wish I had the same chance to communicate with my mayor, governor and president the way I can about the Metro in an open forum for all the public to see. I wish more parts of government had the guts to face us. It is easy to see why people posting on here have a lot of pent up frustration from not being listened to in the past. But I must say it's gutsy of you to encourage this feedback and to "face" us.
# February 5, 2007 3:15 PM

Airstream said:

I read Mary’s post and felt saddened. Another blogger discouraged by vituperative posts.

I’ve commuted on METRO over the years and am very interested in how Houston develops for the future. I like the enthusiasm and energy I'm seeing in METRO. They intentionally opened themselves to the public through the blog, which is a brave thing to do.  

But I’ve read some of the angry posts here and elsewhere; what I don’t understand is the petulant, childlike tone of some of these critics. I don’t learn anything about the issues from their corrosive diatribe.

People’s misuse of blogs for emotional catharsis is a problem. Where attempts are made to tone down nasty comments, the offenders suddenly become the offended. As Thomas Sowell says, “They tend to see the problems of the world as due to other people not being as wise or as noble as themselves.”

If we have a national pandemic, it’s this kind of emotionalism that’s becoming toxic.

# February 5, 2007 4:44 PM

JeffTheWriter said:

It's a work in progress. A good blog isn't built in a day. I agree with Airstream's assessment on emotional outlets. Bloggers take much abuse (others that are not p.r. oriented can fight fire with fire but Mary is too classy to strike back that way.) On the other hand, now that football season's over, where else can we let off steam???
# February 5, 2007 5:57 PM

Airstream said:

Roger that. Let's talk about some of those ads that aired during the Superbowl. I watched with a group of friends with a hefty sprinkling of marketing/PR/communications types. One would conclude about America: we like to laugh at fat people (Eddy Murphy movie); we'd hurt each other to get a beer (Bud Light); we like to hit and slap each other (Bud Light); basically we just like to hit and slap each other (King Pharmaceuticals). Did I say we like to hurt each other? (Careerbuilder)   Maybe we can put all that aggression to better use. But then again, this is METRO's blog so I digress. :)  
# February 5, 2007 10:10 PM

Royko said:

Ms. Sit, To purge comments and questions you deem off topic, and orchastrate the METRO public relations department-compliant narrow aspect rhetoric is abhorent. The public was invited into in a taxpayer funded forum, so METRO-generated guidelines may or may not be compliant with established free speech precedent.  Therefore, it may not be so simple as arbitrarilly deciding as you have. There has yet to be a response from the METRO Legal Department to a challenge made over that Guideline.
# February 5, 2007 11:40 PM

Matt Bramanti said:

Mary, while I understand the "living room" policy, I strongly disagree with its application by a government employee in a publicly-funded forum. The fact is, this blog is an external affairs/PR tool of a local government agency. It's not a living room, and it's certainly not your living room. To quote James Tolkan's character in "Top Gun": "You don't own that plane; the taxpayers do."
# February 6, 2007 1:04 PM

Laurence Simon said:

"And my job duties, while dominated by this blog, include other internal projects for the president/CEO of METRO." The public might be interested in hearing those. Other transit agencies might also be interested in hearing about those. Feel free to share.
# February 6, 2007 1:13 PM

William said:

Mary is right there are alot of us that want to learn more about what is going on rather than listen to a handful of childish people ranting and raving at how bad Metro is. Like she said if tyou have a complaaint the file it. I get tired of weeding through the same old gripes over an dover agaain by a few people. If you are so unhappy with Metro why are you not trying to do things to improve it. As far as not posting certain comments most sites you go to have there rules for posting in their community. If you violate the rules they simply stop you from posting. Why should Metro be any different. I have been riding Metro every day for the past two years and use the train when I need to and all of it is a great asset to me. Without it I would not be able to get around. Sure it has it's flaws. But what company doesn't? The only way to improve those flaws is to go through the proper procedures.
# February 6, 2007 1:29 PM

Rorschach said:

Perhaps instead of complaining about our complaints, perhaps you should instead show how METRO is actually addressing our concerns. Could it be that METRO does not CARE about our concerns? Dialog cannot occur without dissent. Nor can dialog occur if one party refuses to engage in the dialog. Laurence, Royko, Matt, and myself are bringing up REAL, VALID issues, and you refuse to address them. We are still waiting for a substantive reply.
# February 6, 2007 1:33 PM

Matt Bramanti said:

"I do not report to a vice president." When has that changed? Your job description, created on August 22 of last year, indicates that you report to the VP of External Affairs. It says that twice, once with the help of a little chart. A copy can be found here: http://www.houstonpress.com/art/media/metro.pdf
# February 6, 2007 1:38 PM

acc's finest said:

Ok, time to dust off that legal education...actually a governmental entity that places such restrictions on public comments as removing them, unless they are obviously "bad" (e.g. overtly vulgar, etc.), would be a violation of free speech.  Of course, there can be some restrictions, such as the time limit for speakers at council meetings, but to remove a comment just because you feel it to be "off comment" or "negative" is an inappropriate action.  While Metro really wants this blog to be a part of its PR campaign, taxpayers do have a right to be heard, and the governmental entity has an obligation to allow them to be heard. When I worked for a local politican in the area, we were often buried in public comments.  We did not selectively determine what the politican saw and did not see, but, unless it was obscene, it went to that politican's desk.  Instead of complaining about the taxpayers who feel the need to comment 30% of the time, concentrate on doing your job as a public servant.  Ms. Sit, you are not at the Houston Comical, you are a public servant; act like it.
# February 6, 2007 7:25 PM

southerntragedy said:

Mary:  Oh boo-freaking hoo!  You get paid WAY more than I do.  I am a single-mom of 3 with no child support. I am not on welfare, or receive hand outs. I take more crap at my job every day than you do.  Put some suck-it-up cream on and do your job. Grow some tough skin and quit going to the spa.  I am 90# and would NEVER ride metro until your company gets a handle on the crime.  Your schedules suck! It takes a lot of time to do research?  Do you not have high speed internet at your cushy job?  Surely you can post more than one a day, or answer questions.  How long is your lunch hour?  6 hours?  What exactly are you doing at work all day?  You seem to be the Queen of Denial.
# February 6, 2007 8:09 PM

Wolverine said:

Metro certainly doesn't come into this process with clean hands. It has repeatedly promised improved bus service only to cut back service in areas. It has a hard time realizing the Westpark and Richmond are two different streets. Metro could address the concerns that some have questioned on this blog instead Metro has decided to ignore them and label the questioners as discontents.
# February 7, 2007 8:24 AM

duhmoose said:

Mary, perhaps the role of this blog is being mis-communicated. I, and several others here, thought this would be a place to have a conversation with a Metro representative. Air our questions, and receive thoughtful responses to those questions. Several issues have been brought up, and ignored. It seems now that this blog is a self promoting site, not meant to deal with issues, but to be another public relations/advertisement for Metro. As a tax payer, I am disappointed by the treatment of issues here. Those commentors who are critical of Metro are repremanded, however, those commentors who are demeaning to other commentors are given a pass. if you are going to repress free speech, please be a little more even handed on it.
# February 7, 2007 8:46 AM

J. Liggins said:

I suppose that was most people fail to realize, which is just a matter of common sense, is that it's NOT the criticism that has warranted some of Mary's comments, it is the childlike and indignant tone of the critical comments.  You couple that with the constant de-railing of threads, smarmy remarks sure to get a high five or back slap from the Anti-Metro fraternity, and personal attacks/lies/rumors and you get one angry blogger.

Of course, what frustrates me the most, is that instead of acting like adults and adjusting the TONE of the criticism, space is wasted with legal rants, and a defense of child like behaviors.  I honestly hope that no one has actually filed a complaint with the legal department because an off topic remark was removed from a "taxpayer funded forum."  Some of you psuedo economists and taxpayer watchdogs moan and groan about Metro throwing money into "boondoggle rail," a term I can go without hearing again for the rest of my life, and yet you want to tie up the legal department because you feel your right to engage in spoiled, bratty behavior that would have even the most troubled pre school students amazed at your form and style, has been revoked? That's like soiling your pants to spite mommy.  And, as a tax payer and actual METRO RIDER, a term that might be a tad foreign to some of you, sans the occasional Park and Ride lot, I'd like to see my monies go to a forum where people can discuss issues like adults, as frickin' crazy as that sounds.  I mean, geez, post me at a turned over cart on Holman Street for me being so crazy as to think we can act as adults, seeing as we are of that age.

Now, Metro is not the perfect agency by far, but at least they are sticking their pinky toe into the waters of communicating with the public.  They still trip over themselves at times (01.21.07 service changes), but they are beginning to listen and respond.  Mary has researched more questions than a few that I'm sure take more than a minute to answer thoroughly.  I guess as some of you type one of your smug questions about cost per mile of MetroRail(with I'm sure a smirk that would rival *** Cheney's), you feel Mary has a magical desk she can rife through and find a well typed response.  When she does do her research her efforts are ignored and new questions are raised, when a Metro official dare peek into the blog, they are dragged into a conflict.  When there is proof that Metro is actually doing something besides cut services here and there, it is ignored, or derailed with sarcasm and complaints (see 68 post and 217 post).

This is getting long winded so I'm going to conclude here; you all have the right to criticize Metro.  There are several aspects that need criticism, but don't throw tantrums, exhibit rude behavior and expect to get the responses you want.  

And to you Mary, you're doing a good job, less fluff and more issues which I like, and Metro is reading and listening.  I think this blog can only get better if both sides of the issue are willing to conduct themselves by age and not shoe size.  You are classy and patient as I would have banned at least Royko as I doubt I'd ever have to dress in my Sunday best to present myself in front of Chief Justice Roberts in the case of Jason Liggins (MTA of Harris County) vs. Royko et. al. for a blog banning.  Keep up the good work Mary.

# February 7, 2007 9:36 AM

Byron said:

J. Liggins appears to have a lot of spare time!
# February 7, 2007 10:45 AM

PubliusTX said:

>>Sometimes I may post multiple times a day,<<

Promises, promises. ;)

The fact is, we have not seen multiple posts per day from you, and it doesn't seem like more frequent posting is a priority.

>>To set the record straight: I do not make $300/post.<<

If you assume one post per workday (figuring in reasonable assumptions about METRO holiday/personal/sick days off) and divide your salary by the concomitant number of workdays per year, then yes, you average a little over $300/post. I realize you are a salaried employee and thus the number of posts do not directly affect your salary, but for the purpose of illustrating what this blog costs roughly, per post, with reasonable assumptions made, I think the metric I used on blogHOUSTON.net was appropriate and the characterization accurate. If you or your supervisors disagree, then I would be more than happy to entertain your objections.

High-profile public employees may not like their salary and work output being the subject of debate, but that's the nature of "high profile" and "public" work. People who are overly sensitive to that probably should work in the private sector in a field other than PR.

# February 7, 2007 1:20 PM

Matt Bramanti said:

"and yet you want to tie up the legal department because you feel your right to engage in spoiled, bratty behavior that would have even the most troubled pre school students amazed at your form and style, has been revoked? That's like soiling your pants to spite mommy."

Mary, is this attitude indicative of the morale at 1900 Main Street, or just in the Customer Service department?

Yikes!

# February 7, 2007 4:46 PM

Royko said:

J. Liggins, Does METRO maintain a staff in the Legal Department so as not to be bothered with public information inquiries, as most of the critical operational data is "stonewalled," and, instead they would rather stand by the water cooler and gaze out the window at the near-empty cars of the glorious Utopian tram?
# February 7, 2007 10:47 PM

J. Liggins said:

Um, Matt, I don't actually work for Metro. As crazy is this may seem to some of you, some of the general public does not actively HATE Metro with every ounce of their being. But, thanks for playing.
# February 7, 2007 10:51 PM

J. Liggins said:

"J. Liggins appears to have a lot of spare time!" If you consider a fraction of the 30 minutes I have between school and work "a lot of spare time", then yes, I'm simply drowning in it.
# February 7, 2007 11:03 PM

Kauzman Entertainment (From Tha Bottom) said:

"Jerry Springer meets the blogosphere. I personally prefer Nightline." -------------------------------------------------------- Jerry fell off and I barely watch it b/c it's either I'm sleeping or spending too much time contributing to the streets (what I now rarely do).
# February 7, 2007 11:59 PM

Mary Sit said:

RE: First Amendment rights and blogging:

METRO certainly invites varying opinions, and we would do nothing to violate the First Amendment rights of bloggers.

RE: Reporting to a vice president:

The department was restructured in September after the Houston Press article was published. By the time I was hired, I was reporting to a director.

RE: Other duties:

I will also be doing internal writing projects.

# February 8, 2007 6:40 PM

Royko said:

If you have the opportunity, could you pop in at Legal and help with the TXPIA requests? Ms. Maldonado is checking out to have her baby, and Ms. Alexander is busier than two cats in a litter box.
# February 8, 2007 7:25 PM

qman_tx said:

METRO currently has more down's than up's.

In my humble opinion:

METRO needs to communicate with the riders- Instead of Metro just asking those to fill out survey's, why not a get a staff to examine the ride of METRO and evaluate what needs improvement such as: demand, increase in schedule, schedule information on the bus, bus shelters, interactives on each bus to know what bus # is about and where it is going.

There is so much METRO can be doing to improve thier service.

I will be going to the next board meeting on Feb 22 and hope to see yall there.

# February 11, 2007 3:17 AM

Don Gallagher said:

I already typed this out a week ago and suddenly noticed my comments never were posted. As before, I am indeed logged in and so the post should be received and posted without any moderating.

Ann.

You need to remind people that the 15,410 views (now far far more, is meaningless with this design for a blog. I had suggested to you earlier that they need to have a means to indentify any new replies for each post without the need for us to reenter and slide down the list. I have perhaps 100 'views' just in the past few days simply to see where my comment was posted.

In addition, I made two important comments directed at Mr. Moon on Jan 30th, and Chief Lambert on Jan 27th and neither has been answered. Is this a give-and-take blog or simply a give and no reply blob?

I absolutely 100% agree that personal attacks should not be made but if Metro wants to get on the side of the people, they need to answer the hard questions and not simply gloss over the topics.

John Sedlak lied to me once about 9 years ago, in writing, and I personally have lost faith in Metro and their methods of presenting information. If this is simply to be a pretty face print-op for Metro it wastes everyone's time.

Metro is an unelected government agency that we the tax payers own and want to provide service for the people who need it the most.

This time I will cut-n-copy this text. I have tried to stay on topic and without any personal attacks.

Don Gallagher, sent at 10:50pm 02/11

# February 11, 2007 10:51 PM

Byron said:

Wow - 19 whole posts in one month? Great work ethic there, Mary. Nice to see my tax dollars at work.
# February 13, 2007 1:48 PM

Mary Sit said:

From Jan. 8 - launch date - until Feb. 2 - there were 19 work days, 19 posts and one holiday (MLK Day). There was no post on MLK Day.

# February 13, 2007 2:51 PM

Don Gallagher said:

Again, quite puzzled and confused as to exactly how this blog is going to work Mary?

Here I posted a rather lenghty reply asking questions and there have been no responses from Metro employees.

Where is Mr. Moon's reply to my question here (above) and two weeks ago at another post?

Where is Chief Lamberts reply to my question here 0above) and three weeks ago at another post?

I also noticed that I had date stamped my last post 10:50pm on the 11th and it was not posted until the next afternoon but has a date stamp inferring it posted 1 minute later?

Again, is this a give-and-take blob or simply a give only?

Byron made a very simply (still relevant) comment and you responded 63 minutes later. BUT! Did his post actually get posted here at the time stated or at the same time you replied? If you are going to moderate every single message, at least give us the benefit of a true post time stamp.

In addition, Byron's comment is proper since most blogs have messages posted by the controller (since we cannot create a topic ourselves) they ahev multiple posts everyday. One in particular, which aslo has a means to see what's new without having to view every single post for new replies) is BlogHouston. They have close to 20,000 comments posted for over 4,000 posts by the moderators. They do not moderate either.

I have a web group called MET Houston http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/MET_Houston/

where anyone can join and post. The only moderating done is to control spam and first time users to ensure they are not making personal attacks. Other than that, people can post any argument they want.

In comparison, there are two other groups called Moving Houston and LightRail Now in Yahoo where you are not allowed to post anything negative about light rail in Houston or anywhere. How do we learn or improve if we don't listen to the negatives and answer them?

Sent at 10:02am 2/14 (Happy Valentine;s Day all!)

# February 14, 2007 10:01 AM

Mary Sit said:

Don G,

The date and time that's posted on comments are the date and time that our computers receive that comment. The time registered on our computers may be different than what's on your computer; hence, the one-minute difference that you noticed.

Our software is not configured to register the time a comment is published (as opposed to received).

Comments are published whenever I get around to it.

And Happy Valentine's Day to you, too! :-)

# February 14, 2007 12:45 PM
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